Pentecost c, May 19, 2013

May 21, 2013

Gracious Invasion
Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

I want you to take note of the Pentecostal Holy Spirit pole that we used this morning as if you can fail to take note of the 20’ piece of bamboo with a dove and ribbons hangin from it. (Thank you Anita Cryer for creating our Holy Spirit Dove). The pole itself could have come from my neighbor’s yard about a week ago, but it didn’t. With our neighbor’s permission we hired Mr. Bamboo to come eliminate the thicket of bamboo that existed along the fence row that separates our yards. We had already been cutting out of our yard, but she had a significant patch in her yard – which means it kept coming up in our yard. But it was only after we had had it all removed that Anne and Paul and I thought about needing a long pole to create a good Pentecostal visual. Luckily someone near the church had done some bamboo pruning and I was able to salvage this long piece of bamboo before it went to the landfill. I may well have been led to this pole by the Holy Spirit!

Bamboo is an amazing plant that has it’s place in the world, but it can take over your yard. And it doesn’t understand boundary lines. Our neighbor has her house up for sale. And not knowing how a new neighbor might feel about the bamboo forrest that was growing between us, we asked our current neighbor if we could have it removed and she agreed to our proposal. We’re still battling new shoots, but we understand that with persistence and some well placed rock salt we will someday rid ourselves of this powerful botanical presence.

Honestly I’m not anti-bamboo. There’s not another plant around that can provide such a long and sturdy Pentecostal dove pole. It’s amazing how tall and strong a piece of bamboo can grow. And according to Mr. Bamboo, a local man who probably knows more about the plant than anyone in the state, it is not only strong and straight – it’s full of nutrition and makes good pickles. He says it also generates oxygen and eliminates carbon dioxide more efficiently than most other plants.

Mr. Bamboo actually told me that he considers bamboo to be the source of salvation for our planet. I didn’t ask him to elaborate on that. I’m not saying he had worked bamboo in to any kind of theological belief system, but clearly he is a strong bamboo proponent. He didn’t seem to hold anything against us for wanting to eliminate bamboo from our premesis. He didn’t treat us like we were botanical criminals. He understands the power of bamboo. He knows that it would one day bar us from entering our house if we didn’t do something.

I’m not so sure that it will save our planet, but it could take over the planet. It doesn’t even need good soil to thrive. I don’t know what it lives on, but I see it coming up in places where weeds would never consider sprouting. I think it has a root system that is so extensive it hauls in what it needs from miles away. The bamboo growing in my yard was probably having it’s nourishment pumped in from it’s relatives over in the delta.

I’m thinking about what it means to be invaded this morning, and it was this story of the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that got me thinking about this concept of invasion – which got me thinking about bamboo. Some days it looks like there’s a small army of creatures under our yard who are trying to jab us with bamboo sprouts. Being invaded isn’t necessarily a pleasant concept, but it isn’t always an unwelcome event. I don’t guess there’s ever been a more fortunate event than the day the Holy Spirit invaded the hearts of the people who had gathered in Jerusalem following the departure of Jesus.

And I don’t think it’s a distortion of the truth to call this event an invasion. The story is that on the Day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem the followers of Jesus had something arrive in their hearts that wasn’t there before. Something happened that changed their way of interacting with other people. They were suddenly able to communicate and associate with people far different from themselves who were from places they had never been. I guess it did look a lot like they had been drinking. Some people do get a lot friendlier and talkative when they’ve had a few drinks, but the people who were invaded by the Holy Spirit weren’t just under the impression that they were able to utter profound truths – they had actually become empowered to communicate good news from God.

The arrival of the Holy Spirit changed everything for that first generation of the followers of Jesus, and while the invasion continues in to our generation it is often overshadowed by other less gracious invaders. We aren’t always as responsive to the presence of the Holy Spirit as we are to the influence of more tangible powers. There are many powerful invaders in our lives, and we often let them take over.

I heard a review on the radio of a magazine ariticle about a small village in Spain that won the Spanish national lottery in December of 2011 and how it affected that village. It was interesting to hear a little bit about the story, so I looked the article up and read it for myself. The article tells the story of what happened in this village called Sodeto in Spain that is home to about 250 people and like many others in Spain, the people of Sodeto were financially strapped. They just barely got by.

Spain has the worlds longest running lottery and the largest jackpot in the world, they call it El Gordo – meaning the fat one. It’s a drawing that takes place once a year right before Christmas and there are only so many numbers available for the lottery, but they break those numbers into smaller increments, so you can buy a portion of a number. The Housewives Association of Sodeto went and bought a large portion of one number and they sold various increments of that number to all of the residents of Sodeto as a fundraiser for their community. And it turns out that their number got picked.

And as you can imagine, it had a powerful impact on that little village. They went from being really poor to really rich, and it made everybody so happy – for a while. There is a side note in the story about the one man who didn’t buy a ticket – which is an interesting story in itself, but the article portrays the way in which everyone in this village went from dancing in the street with one another, to becoming rather suspicious and distrustful of each other. The article ended by portraying how sad this one woman was a year later on the anniversary of the drawing. Their moment in the sun had faded, much of the money was gone, and many relationships had deteriorated.

And I was reminded how empty the powers of this world really are. This little village had an invasion of money. They thought that was the thing that was going to solve all of their problems, but it left them feeling sad, suspicious, and isolated. The man that didn’t buy a ticket was actually better off than many of the residents after a year because he had done a lot of filming of what went on with people, and he was hired by a Danish filmmaker to do a documentary on the impact of El Gordo on this small village.

I think we often wonder what it means to be guided by the Holy Spirit – to have our hearts invaded by that powerful force. I think we often think it’s a mysterious presence that will lead us to pick the right lottery number or find the perfect parking space. I think we often think the Holy Spirit is a guardian angel of sorts that will make our lives easier and fix all of our problems. But that isn’t what it did for those first followers of Jesus who had gathered in Jerusalem. What the Holy Spirit did for them was to enable them to spread the good news of God’s eternal love.

And the good news for them wasn’t that they had won the lottery. The good news for them was that they had a home that could never be forclosed upon. They were in a community that would never break down. They were loved for who they were and not what they had. This is what happens to people who become invaded by the Holy Spirit. And a community that has such an invasion doesn’t become more suspicious of one another – it becomes more compassionate toward other people and more effective in taking care of other people.

I think our challenge is to allow ourselves to become more invaded by that generous spirit of God. And to try to poison the roots of those other forces that seek to invade our lives. If you’ve ever done battle with bamboo you know how persistent those shoots can be, and how fast they can grow. If we aren’t careful we can allow the wrong spirits to take root in our hearts. But thanks be to God we aren’t left to our own defenses. As surely as we are being invaded by those spirits from below, we are also being shot from above by God’s Holy Spirit who constantly seeks to invade our hearts and to turn us in the direction of life. True life! Thanks be to God. Amen.


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